Dear Ken: We have a home with older wiring. I have noticed that light bulbs burn out too often. Is there a problem with the wiring? Is there a test we can do? — Bill
Answer: The utility company should come take a look to make sure they are delivering power at the correct voltage (around 117 volts, give or take) and that their connections to and from the meter are adequate to carry your home’s load. Since you indicated that this is an everywhere problem at your house, we probably can eliminate individual circuit troubles, such as bad switches or connections.
You say you have ”older wiring,” so an electrician should check all the connections in the switch boxes and inside light fixtures. Of course, if you notice any buzzing, arcing, strange noises or smells around any electrical box, turn off that circuit and get it repaired ASAP.
By the way, make sure everyone in the family knows where the electric panel is in the house and, specifically, where the main breaker shutoff is in case of an emergency. Ditto for the main incoming water valve, the gas valves for the furnace and water heater and the furnace kill switch.
Dear Ken: We are going to replace carpeting in much of our house over the next few weeks. I would like some advice about fixing the floor squeaks. Mostly plywood, but a few areas have hardwood. Can we drive nails or screws right through it? The basement is finished, so we don’t have access underneath. — Ed
Answer: Squeaks and pops on a floor somehow seem more irritating once they are covered with carpet, so yes, I’d repair them all now. Use some 16 penny finishing nails driven through the hardwood. Go to a heat vent in the floor to look for your first joist. They should then be about 16, 19-3/8 or 24 inches apart from there. Drill a small pilot hole for each nail you use, then countersink the nail with a nail set and cover the head with a little paste wood filler. I’m advising against using big old ugly screws in this surface, because I have a feeling that someday you (or a subsequent occupant) will want to re-expose the oak again.
For regular plywood surfaces, you can use some 3-inch deck or drywall screws driven into each joist with your trusty portable drill/screwdriver.
Dear Ken: We have water accumulating on the inside of our basement concrete walls. Any suggestions for waterproofing on the inside? The wall is not accessible outdoors. — Rachel
Answer: Your implication is right: You should always cure a water problem from the outside by first removing the source of moisture and then sealing minor holes and cracks. In your case, you can use one of the many concrete crack sealants available at the hardware store. Most come in a caulking gun style and are quite effective. Look for an acrylic, siliconized material. First, use a chisel to clean out the crack — and to open it up to a V-shape, ¼-inch or so in width. Then brush out all loose material and dust before you apply the caulking.
If a lot of hydrostatic pressure is built up on the outside of the wall, though, this fix may be only temporary. You don’t necessarily have to dig down on the outside to the actual crack. Most times, simply removing the moisture source is enough. Look for nearby downspouts dumping too close, sprinkler valves leaking inside their box, heads pointed toward the foundation and soil that slopes the wrong way. Once you’ve modified or eliminated these defects, add a layer of solid plastic next to the house under a layer of whatever dryscape product you choose.
Dear Ken: I have a question regarding garbage disposals. One of the two blades inside the unit has loosened and is hitting the other one. It sure makes a racket. For the life of me, I can’t find any way to tighten it. Can you help? — Len
Answer: The actual blades are riveted in place on the rotating plate at the bottom. They’re not meant to be adjusted, because an adjusting feature would mean they could occasionally become extra loose and fly out of the unit itself.
It’s time to replace the whole thing. Get at least a one-third horsepower model — available for about $75 at any home center. They’re quite easy to replace yourself. If you buy the same brand you have now — and assuming no leaks are around the drain — the new unit will simply twist into place on the old bracket underneath the sink. By the way, it’s vital to ground a disposer. Use a new three-prong cord set and hook the third wire to the green grounding screw on the new disposer’s body.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com